LSU, Burrow overcome injuries, mistakes to beat UCF in Fiesta Bowl

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When you are missing seven players who were starters on defense, it is bound to affect your performance.

LSU was missing K’Lavon Chaisson, who went down in the season opener, Jacob Phillips (for the first half), Greedy Williams and Ed Alexander, who opted not to play, and the other injured players in Kristian Fulton and Breiden Fehoko. Then, there was the suspension of Kelvin Joseph. Defensive end Neil Farrell was also out.

The number would grow.

In the first half, Terrence Alexander got ejected for a dumb play and star Grant Delpit was also ejected for targeting. You cannot make this stuff up.

Then, John Battle went down in the final minute of the half, though he was able to return.

For good measure (or bad), Rashard Lawrence, who would have a huge game, went down late in the fourth quarter.

The diminishing returns of players proved to be a huge hindrance for Dave Aranda’s unit Tuesday in Glendale, Arizona.

Fortunately, the defense had just enough stops while the offense made enough plays as the Tigers outlasted the Knights 40-32 in the Fiesta Bowl.

In a game that featured three ejections, a pick-six and 26 penalties for 249 yards, LSU survived. The Tigers were the better team.

Joe Burrow had never thrown four touchdown passes in a game. That changed on this afternoon.

LSU had given up only 22 points in the first quarter all season long. The Knights scored 14 in the first quarter of this one but the Tigers still overcame the early deficit.

Here are my quick takes from LSU’s 40-32 victory over UCF:

**LSU won the toss and took the football.

**Clyde Edwards-Helaire returned the opening kickoff 77 yards to the UCF 16-yard line. That erased any doubt that Edwards-Helaire would be mentally ready to play after the difficult last few weeks he has had.

**Nick Brossette then reversed field on a run right and went left for 11 yards.

**Burrow then ran hard to the one-yard line but tackle Saddiq Charles then killed the touchdown opportunity with a false start on third-and-goal from the six-yard line.

**Burrow then faced pressure and threw incomplete, resulting in a Cole Tracy field goal of 24 yards to make it 3-0 with 12:38 to play in the opening quarter.

**It was a win for UCF to hold the Tigers to a field goal.

**Greg McRae raced 25 yards to give UCF a 7-3 lead with 10:56 to play in the opening quarter. It was easy, too easy. The Knights drove 69 yards in just six plays, taking just 1:42 to grab the lead. LSU looked slow against the speedy UCF offense.

**LSU then mounted a nice drive, reached the UCF 15-yard line, but Burrow was intercepted by Brandon Moore on a pass to the outside, intended for Derrick Dillon, who ran an out route, appeared to be held, slipped and made it easy for Moore. Joey Connors drilled Burrow on the interception return, knocking him flat.

**Connors did not get a penalty for hitting a defenseless player.

**LSU fought back, driving 67 yards in 11 plays, taking 5:12 off the clock with Burrow throwing a perfect ball to Justin Jefferson, who laid out and made a terrific catch for a 22-yard score to cut the deficit to 14-10 with 1:27 to play in the first quarter.

**Burrow, who had been shaken up and cut below the chin in neck area, showed how tough he is and why he is respected by teammates by leading LSU to the score.

**Devin White then came up with the first huge play on defense for LSU, forcing a fumble by UCF quarterback Derriel Mack with Michael Divinity Jr. recovering for the Tigers at the LSU 37-yard line.

**On the play, Alexander got thrown out of the game for punching an opponent in the face mask, a completely foolish, ignorant move. LSU was already down three corners without Williams, Fulton and Joseph. What in the world was he thinking? He has just been flagged for pass interference previously. It was a horrible decision and move that really hurt his team.

**Undaunted, the LSU offense took advantage, driving 63 yards in five plays with Burrow hitting Dillon with a perfect strike for a 49-yard touchdown. Dillon broke a tackle and raced down the sideline for the score to make it 17-14 with 12:59 to play in the first half.

**Kyle Gibson was ejected for targeting Burrow on an incomplete pass. It was obvious and cheap, leading with the helmet well after Burrow had released the pass.

**Charles then got another critical penalty for holding but the Tigers and Burrow overcame it. Burrow hit Jefferson, who was wide open, on a 33-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-14 with 7:11 to play in the first half. The drive covered 78 yards in nine plays, taking 5:02 off the clock.

**Incredibly, LSU star Grant Delpit was then ejected for targeting Dredrick Snelson on a completed pass. It was helmet-to-helmet contact. It was not intentional. It simply was a result of the receiver moving to catch the ball and Delpit trying to tackle him. It was unfortunate.

**Right before the half, UCF hurt LSU badly, scoring on its last possible play with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Darriel Mack to Gabriel Davis to make it 24-21 at the half. On the score, it was a perfect throw and it came against tight coverage by Mannie Netherly, who really hasn’t played all year.

**LSU had just 49 yards rushing in the first half.

**The Tigers led by just three points despite possessing the ball for 21:15 to just 8:45 for UCF.

**Phillips returned to start the second half.

**LSU got away with a possible defensive pass interference call on the first series of the second half, got the ball back and promptly drove 73 yards in four plays with Burrow connecting with Ja’Marr Chase on a 32-yard touchdown pass to give LSU a 31-21 lead with 12:38 to play in the third quarter.

**Brossette went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in the third quarter. He was a workhorse, finishing with 29 carries for 117 yards.

**Chase, who was expected to be an instant starter, if not a star, had a breakout game with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.

**LSU had a long drive to the UCF 5-yard line. On fourth-and-1, Damien Lewis committed a false start penalty to kill LSU’s chances of going for it. Cole Tracy came in and kicked a 28-yard field goal to make it 34-21 with 5:18 to play in the third quarter.

**The drive covered 69 yards in 11 plays and took 6:35 off the clock but it ended in disappointing fashion, thanks to another mistake by the much maligned Tiger offensive line.

**UCF had an easy touchdown on the next play from scrimmage but Davis dropped the ball on a deep shot by Mack. Davis whipped Jontre Kirklin, who had been moved to wide receiver but had to move back to corner due to the massive losses endured by LSU.

**Then, LSU got another three-and-out but Jefferson muffed a punt, a killer mistake, just when LSU was taking total control.

**That gave the Knights the ball at the LSU 20-yard line.

**Mack missed Davis wide open for a touchdown. Wide open. John Battle was totally lost in coverage. Matthew Wright settled for a 38-yard field goal to make it 34-24 with 3:01 to play in the third quarter. It was a big miss by the Knights.

**LSU then drove down the field and had a first-and-goal at the three-yard line to go up three scores. Burrow fumbled a snap and took a six-yard loss. Brossette then lost a yard. On third down, Burrow led Jefferson perfectly to the right corner of the end zone but Jefferson dropped the ball.

**Tracy had to settle for a 28-yard field goal to give LSU a 37-24 lead with 12:09 to play in the game. The drive covered 10 plays, going 62 yards and taking 5:52 off the clock with a lousy ending—again.

**With the field goal, Tracy tied the LSU single-season record with his 28th successful conversion.

**Divinity went down with an injury early in the fourth quarter.

**LSU then went 78 yards in 12 plays with Tracy setting a new school record with his 29th field goal, a 26-yard effort, to give LSU a 40-24 with 4:12 to play in the game. In doing so, Tracy became the all-level leader in NCAA history in career field goals, dating to his days at Assumption College.

**The Knights came back and drove 75 yards in 10 plays, taking 1:48 off the clock with T. McGowan running 2 yards for a touchdown. The Knights got the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 40-32 with 2:24 remaining.

**Foster Moreau recovered the onside kick on a ball that easily could have gone the other way.

**Lawrence, who had a huge game for LSU, went down late in the fourth quarter hurt.

**LSU failed to make a first down and had to punt to UCF, giving the Knights the ball with 39 seconds left at their own 11-yard line.

**Jacoby Stevens put it away with an interception of Mack to seal the deal. Stevens had an outstanding game.

Yes, McKenzie Milton missed the game for UCF and he is very good. Considering the number of players LSU was missing on defense, that more than negated the absence of Milton. Mack was 1 for 14 passing with an interception in the second half.

LSU had six sacks in the game. The Tigers were better up front.

To win, LSU had to keep its vastly depleted defense off the field. The Tigers did in demonstrative fashion, possessing the ball for 44:31 to just 15:29 for the Knights.

LSU dominated the game with 555 yards to just 250 for UCF but had to sweat it out for several reasons, including a pick-six, 14 penalties for 145 yards and multiple failures in the red zone to score touchdowns.

Still, there was little doubt as to who the better team was. LSU was favored by seven points and won by eight.

Any discussion about UCF being “national champion” should be quieted permanently. LSU was no better than the fourth or fifth-best team in the SEC and handled UCF up front and everyone knows LSU’s offensive line is anything but good by SEC standards. UCF came in yielding 422 yards per game against far less competition than LSU plays.

UCF is a good team and deserves credit. It is not and never has been a great team, even with its fine quarterback.

Burrow was the clear MVP. He showed how tough he is mentally and physically, overcoming the pick-six and the horrific hit he took early in the game to play his second straight great game. Burrow was 21-of-32 for 394 yards and four touchdowns with the one interception. Had his receiver not slipped, that turnover would not have happened. Neither would the touchdown, obviously.

For LSU it is a rare 10-win season, the first since 2013. It is clearly something to build on. It will help recruiting, hopefully next month.

While LSU clearly could have won this game by a larger margin, it is a solid win and a great way to end its season.

Ed Orgeron has earned the right to be called head coach at LSU for some time to come.

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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